Commentary: Sex abuse victims struggle to lose pounds put on as protective measure

By James Fell, Chicago Tribune

I recently wrote a Facebook post asking about sexual abuse and the link to obesity. I thought I might get a few messages, but was surprised when more than 150 people — including a few men — shared their stories.

“I was sexually abused by a babysitter at age 5, and by my cousin from ages 8 to 13,” said Sarah Fitzsimons, 38, from Colorado. “I always felt like my parents didn’t do anything to protect me.”

Fitzsimons says the focus in her family was the way she looked. She recalls being referred to as “the thin, pretty one” out of five siblings. After the abuse started, she used food as a coping mechanism, she said. “It’s what comforts me. It was the one thing I could control.”

Now about 80 pounds overweight, she says “being fat feels safer, but it doesn’t feel great.” Fitzsimons says she’s interested in weight loss, but that she feels her size prevents unwanted sexual attention. This is not to say that body fat prevents sexual assault; it doesn’t. For her, she has found there is less lewd commentary from men about the way she looks when she is carrying extra pounds.

In the early 1980s, Dr. Vincent Felitti uncovered the connection between “adverse childhood experiences” (ACE) and a host of negative physical and mental health outcomes, obesity included.

“We stumbled into this by accident” said Felitti. He was running a major obesity program. He told me about a woman who weighed 408 pounds. Through a fasting protocol, they helped her get down to 132 pounds. “She stayed there for several weeks, then suddenly regained 37 pounds in only three weeks.”

The woman had a history of sleepwalking as a child. During the weight regain, she would go to bed with a clean kitchen and wake up to a messy one. She was sleep eating. Felitti endeavored to get to the bottom of it.

He learned her grandfather raped her repeatedly between the ages of 11 and 20, then she put on weight. After Felitti helped her lose weight, an older, married man at work began making inappropriate and highly suggestive remarks regarding her new shape. The unwanted sexual attention triggered the regain, he said.

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  • John Nesbella
    commented 2017-11-10 08:24:38 -0600
    This is one of the many unhealthy coping mechanisms that befall survivors. Nearly all suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome, addictions, problems with relationships…for life. SNAP has a nice section below-called “Survivors Wisdom” about developing healthier ways to cope.
  • Monica Perez Jimenez
    commented 2017-11-09 09:45:54 -0600
    As a trainer and survivor I do understand this as a result BUT there are others like myself that did the opposite and used fitness to escape the pain…AND EMPOWER MYSELF WITH STRENGTH . I also learned self defense and teach others to have skills. PLEASE do an article on how others chose to deal with their abuse. Some chose to take charge of the body that someone else decided to abuse. This is important to focus on positive empowerment. Let’s SHOW EMPOWERMENT NOT VICTIMIZATION.

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